Another day, another three-setter for Sara Errani. The Italian went three sets in every Australian Open qualifying match and her Gippsland Trophy warmup match.
So, it was no surprise Errani found herself in another tussle during her first round match at the Australian Open against Wang Qiang.
Errani went down 6-2 after the first set and trailed *4-1 in the third set. She had to save five break points at *4-4 in the third set. Yet, it was Errani who eventually won the match 2-6 6-4 6-4.
It was a classic Sara Errani performance. She hit 23 winners in contrast to 52 for Wang. Wang had a higher first and second serve win-percentage. Yet, when it came to unforced errors, Wang had 31 more unforced errors than Errani.
That’s not to say Errani played a purely defensive, return-based match. The Italian has such a knack for finding angles and placements around the court that don’t seem possible.
When Errani hits winners, they usually aren’t the flashy variety. However, they’re equally as impressive because of the hard work Errani does to build the point and work to create the open space necessary for her to hit that winner.
Wang didn’t play a terrible match by any stretch of the imagination. Her 52-58 winner-unforced error ratio isn’t terrible and she won more total points in the match (93-91).
The problem for Wang is that she didn’t win the big points. When push came to shove and the high pressure points came around, Errani was too consistent and crafty around the court. And Wang’s game just couldn’t hold up.
For Sara Errani, to reach the second round of two Majors in a row feels like a minor miracle, given how shambolic her game felt in early 2019.
Errani is best known for her runner-up performance in singles at the 2012 French Open, rising as high as World No. 5 in singles, and the five Major doubles titles.
Yet, those triumphs couldn’t have felt further away.
Errani was banned for taking the performance-enhancing drug letrozole, although the circumstances behind what really happened in that case are still not clear.
Then, after returning to tennis, she struggled to even put an overhead serve in the court during the first half of the 2019. Falling as low as World No. 366 in the world by June 2019, Errani’s brilliant career felt as if it were coming to a close with a whimper.
Yet, much as the case was in the first round against Wang, Errani was down but not out. Shortly after dipping so low in the rankings, Errani won an ITF tournament in Rome.
She then meandered along with middling results for over a year. The pandemic hit in early 2020 and whether or not Errani would continue fighting on after the hiatus was in doubt.
However, Errani did return to professional tennis and she finally broke through at a Grand Slam event once again, qualifying for the 2020 French Open and then winning her first round match against Monica Puig. The Italian had a dramatic second round encounter against former French Open semifinalist Kiki Bertens that just didn’t go her way.
Of course, Sara Errani is known for her clay court abilities, whether or not she could still translate those to hard court at this stage in her career was in question. This felt especially true as she took a couple meek defeats in ITF hard court events against CiCi Bellis and Marta Kostyuk.
Yet, her performance in Australian Open qualifying and in her first round against Wang shows we should never doubt her, regardless of the surface.
Next up for Errani at the Australian Open is a second round showdown with Venus Williams, who beat Kirsten Flipkens 7-5 6-2 in the first round.
Not counting an exhibition match, Williams leads the head to head 3-1, but Errani won their previous meeting in 2014. In that wild match, the two traded bagels before Errani defeated Williams in a third set tiebreak, 6-0 0-6 7-6(5). Errani could have collapsed after that weak second set. But she didn’t.
Regardless of how that one plays out, Sara Errani should be pleased with how she’s competed during the tail-end of her career, on a surface that isn’t her favorite.
After Errani’s letrozole ban, according to the BBC, Sara Errani stated, “I don’t know if I will be able to find the strength and desire to play again after all of this.”
It’s clear, after seeing Sara Errani’s performance against Wang Qiang at the Australian Open, she’s certainly found the strength and desire that she was looking for.
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